Wukir Suryadi, Peter Blamey
The Power of Pamor Ujung Gunung, 2014
keris, tea tree branch, copper wire, amplifiers
1. The Keris
Keris is a dagger (sharp-edged on both sides) with many cultural functions known in west and central part of Nusantara. It’s got a distinctive shape of asymmetrical handle, wavy blade, and most often would have pamor (damascene).
Badik and Kerambit are two other types of similar knife weapon. Back in the old days, keris was used as a weapon in duels/battles, as well as a part of offerings. Now keris has becoming more of a ceremonial attire, cultural symbol, or collectible object valued for its aesthetics.
Keris is widely used in areas that were influenced by Majapahit, such as Java, Madura, Nusa Tenggara, Sumatera, coasts of Kalimantan, some parts of Sulawesi, Malaya Peninsula, Thailand, and South Philippines (Mindanao). Keris on each of these areas has their own characteristics of look, function, craftsmanship, and etymology. Indonesian keris has been registered in UNESCO as Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2005.
Today, keris has various functions and is reflected by its different kinds of shape. Keris as an element of offerings and paranormal rituals/ceremonies has different shape. The handle conjoins the blade. While keris as a weapon has solid, strong, yet light blade.
Since 19th century, the function of keris kept getting softer, along with rising usage of firearms. Keris’ role as a weapon was gradually reduced. Its variation in today’s warangka (sheath) is also the embodiment of keris’ “softened” function.
In Javanese culture today, keris is revered as tosan aji or sacred heirloom, which used to be a sacred heirloom weapon. In Java and Sunda, keris is placed in the back side of waist during peaceful times and in front side of waist during war times. In Sumatera, Kalimantan, Malaysia, Brunei, and Philippines, keris is placed in front of waist during ceremonies.
“The Majapahit people always wear pu-la-t’ou (dagger) slipped in the belt, made out of steel, with intricate pattern and subtle stripes on its blade; the handle is made out of gold, horn, or ivory with delicate carvings of human shapes or giant face.” Ma Huan, “Ying-yai Sheng-lan Fai”.
“The King’s weapons are sword, whip, pamuk, machete, peso teundeut, giant keris that is his deity, because it is used to kill.” Sanghyang siksakanda ng karesian, Pupuh XVII
“Each man in Java, either rich or poor, must have a keris in his house and not one between the age of 12 to 80 must leave the house without a keris in his belt. Keris is placed in the back, much like a dagger in Portugal” Tome Pires, “Suma Oriental”
2. History of Tea in Indonesia
Tea plants belong to the genus Camellia that consists of 82 species, dispersed around South East Asia. Other than consumed as a refreshing drink, the genus Camellia also covers many kinds of ornamental plants.
Tea drinking habit presumably originated from China which then developed in Japan and Europe. Tea plants came from borders of Southern China, Northwest Laos, North Muangthai, East Burma, and Northeast India
1684- Andreas Cleyer, a VOC staff, a German botanist, brought tea seeds from Japan and plant them as ornamental plants in Tijgersgracht – Batavia.
1694 – A priest named F. Valentijn reported that he saw shrubs of tea grow in the garden of Governor General Champhuys’ Palace in Batavia (now Jakarta).
1728 – Dutch people started to plant tea for their own purposes by using seeds from China.
1811 – Administration of Governor General Raffles (1811-1816) implemented Landrente system (all land belong to the state), people must pay rent, and Dutch keep using this system until 1830.
1817 – The Dutch built Land’s Plantentuin Buitenzorg (now Bogor Botanical Garden)
1824 – Dr.Van Siebold, a surgeon for Dutch soldiers who did a natural research in Japan promoted the cultivation of Japanese tea seeds. The tea was planted in Land’s Plantentuin Buitenzorg and introduced to the people
1827 – Tea was planted in Cisurupan Experimental Plantation in Garut, East Java. A bigger scale of experiment was done in Wanayasa (Purwakarta) and in Gunung Raung (Banyuwangi, East Java).
1828 – These experiments were followed up by Jacobus Isidorus Loudewijk Levian Jacobson, a tea expert, by establishing a commercial tea plantation.
Tea plantation business since then started in Java. During the time of Governor Van Den Bosh, tea was one of the plants that people have to plant (Culture Stetsel).
1830 – Cultuurstelsel policy was implemented and tea was one of the commodities that people have to plant. Each village had to provide 1/5 of the land for export commodity and the harvest should be sold to the government with the price set by the government. People who did not own land must work 75 days a year. In reality, they have to work in plantation for the whole year.
1835 – For the first time, tea from Java were exported and around 200 cases were auctioned in Amsterdam.
1877 – Tea seeds of Asssamica from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and R.E. Kerkhoven planted them in Gambung Plantation, East Java. Since then, Chinese tea was gradually replaced by Assam tea.
1910 – The expansion of tea plantation to Sumatera was initiated by the establishment of a tea plantation in Simalungun. Before World War II, tea plantation in Indonesia has reached 230.000 hectares.
1945 – World War II – Over half of the tea plantations were damaged due to warfare.
1945 – After the independence, Indonesian government took over and recovered the tea plantation and industry.
Keris and tea plants have quite a long history in Indonesia, and for almost three weeks applying my memories in order to maximize the collaborative process in the second Instrument Builders Project, I then decided to present keris and a tea tree.
3. Why Peter Blamey?
After almost three weeks of interacting, observing, watching and listening to Peter Blamey’s presentation at ICAN and performance in Bukan Musik Biasa Solo, I was trying to describe/define who Peter Blamey is (by purposely not reading his resume beforehand). For me he (probably) lives in a very urban, metropolis, modern, sophisticated and probably hi-tech environment. For me, he’s also trying to become a nice and loyal friend, accepting any condition as it is, and he’s also a bit “crazy” (he likes to think out loud during his creative process). When he performed in Solo, the way he expressed himself in his own way was probably a reflection of his past and his environment. For me, that’s interesting.
One of my methods of instrument building is to present old objects that are strongly related to the way people live during that era, then present the objects back by adding new functions and values. By doing this, I somehow impose Peter to add/response in his own way toward the objects of keris and tea tree.
For me, keris and its history, desiccated tea tree, and Peter Blamey with all his ability to express himself could very much be an entity that might have unpredictable, inseparable power. Who knows?
(text by Wukir Suryadi)